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- A Prisoner in Fairyland - 30/79 -


expression--that expression of a moth she had, puzzled, distressed, only half there, as the saying is. For if she went out so easily at night in this way, some part of her probably stayed out altogether. She never wholly came back. She was always dreaming. The entire instinct of the child, he remembered, was for others, and she thought of herself as little as did the sun--old tireless star that shines for all.

'She's soaked in starlight,' he cried, as they went off headlong. 'We shall find her in the Cave. Come on, you pair of lazy meteors.'

He was already far beyond the village, and the murmur of the woods rose up to them. They entered the meshes of the Star Net that spun its golden threads everywhere about them, linking up the Universe with their very hearts.

'There are no eyes or puddles to-night. Everybody sleeps. Hooray, hooray!' they cried together.

There were cross-currents, though. The main, broad, shining stream poured downwards in front of them towards the opening of the Cave, a mile or two beyond, where the forests dipped down among the precipices of the Areuse; but from behind--from some house in the slumbering village--came a golden tributary too, that had a peculiar and astonishing brightness of its own. It came, so far as they could make out, from the humped outline of La Citadelle, and from a particular room there, as though some one in that building had a special source of supply. Moreover, it scattered itself over the village in separate swift rivulets that dived and dipped towards particular houses here and there. There seemed a constant coming and going, one stream driving straight into the Cave, and another pouring out again, yet neither mingling. One stream brought supplies, while the other directed their distribution. Some one, asleep or awake--they could not tell--was thinking golden thoughts of love and sympathy for the world.

'It's Mlle. Lemaire,' said Jimbo. 'She's been in bed for thirty years---' His voice was very soft.

'The Spine, you know,' exclaimed Monkey, a little in the rear.

'----and even in the daytime she looks white and shiny,' added the boy. 'I often go and talk with her and tell her things.' He said it proudly. 'She understands everything--better even than Mother.' Jimbo had told most. It was all right. His leadership was maintained and justified. They entered the main stream and plunged downwards with it towards the earth--three flitting figures dipped in this store of golden brilliance.

A delicious and wonderful thing then happened. All three remembered.

'This was where we met you first,' they told him, settling down among the trees together side by side. 'We saw your teeth of gold. You came in that train----'

'I was thinking about it--in England,' he exclaimed, 'and about coming out to find you here.'

'The Starlight Express,' put in Jimbo.

'----and you were just coming up to speak to us when we woke, or you woke, or somebody woke--and it all went,' said Monkey.

'That was when I stopped thinking about it,' he explained.

'It all vanished anyhow. And the next time was'--she paused a moment-- 'you--we saw your two gold teeth again somewhere, and half recognised you----'

It was the daylight world that seemed vague and dreamlike now, hard to remember clearly.

'In another train--' Jimbo helped her, 'the Geneva omnibus that starts at--at----' But even Jimbo could not recall further details.

'You're wumbled,' said Rogers, helping himself and the others at the same time. 'You want some starlight to put you in touch again. Come on; let's go in. We shall find all the others inside, I suspect, hard at it.'

'At what?' asked two breathless voices.

'Collecting, of course--for others. Did you think they ate the stuff, just to amuse themselves?'

'They glided towards the opening, cutting through the little tributary stream that was pouring out on its way down the sky to that room in La Citadelle. It was brighter than the main river, they saw, and shone with a peculiar brilliance of its own, whiter and swifter than the rest. Designs, moreover, like crystals floated on the crest of every wave.

'That's the best quality,' he told them, as their faces shone a moment in its glory. 'The person who deserves it must live entirely for others. That he keeps only for the sad and lonely. The rest, the common stuff, is good enough for Fraulein or for baby, or for mother, or any other----' The words rose in him like flowers that he knew.

'Look out, _mon vieux_! 'It was Monkey's voice. They just had time to stand aside as a figure shot past them and disappeared into the darkness above the trees. A big bundle, dripping golden dust, hung down his back.

'The Dustman!' they cried with excitement, easily recognising his energetic yet stooping figure; and Jimbo added, 'the dear old Dustman!' while Monkey somersaulted after him, returning breathless a minute later with, 'He's gone; I couldn't get near him. He went straight to La Citadelle----'

And then collided violently with the Lamplighter, whose pole of office caught her fairly in the middle and sent her spinning like a conjurer's plate till they feared she would never stop. She kept on laughing the whole time she spun--like a catherine wheel that laughs instead of splutters. The place where the pole caught her, however--it was its lighted end--shines and glows to this day: the centre of her little heart.

'Do let's be careful,' pleaded Jimbo, hardly approving of these wild gyrations. He really did prefer his world a trifle more dignified. He was ever the grave little gentleman.

They stooped to enter by the narrow opening, but were stopped again-- this time by some one pushing rudely past them to get in. From the three points of the compass to which the impact scattered them, they saw a shape of darkness squeeze itself, sack and all, to enter. An ordinary man would have broken every bone in his body, judging by the portion that projected into the air behind. But he managed it somehow, though the discomfort must have been intolerable, they all thought. The darkness dropped off behind him in flakes like discarded clothing; he turned to gold as he went in; and the contents of his sack--he poured it out like water--shone as though he squeezed a sponge just dipped in the Milky Way.

'What a lot he's collected,' cried Rogers from his point of vantage where he could see inside. 'It all gets purified and clean in there. Wait a moment. He's coming out again--off to make another collection.'

And then they knew the man for what he was. He shot past them into the night, carrying this time a flat and emptied sack, and singing like a blackbird as he went:--

Sweeping chimneys and cleaning flues, That is the work I love; Brushing away the blacks and the blues, And letting in light from above! I twirl my broom in your tired brain When you're tight in sleep up-curled, Then scatter the stuff in a soot-like rain Over the edge of the world.

The voice grew fainter and fainter in the distance--

For I'm a tremendously busy Sweep, Catching the folk when they're all asleep, And tossing the blacks on the Rubbish Heap Over the edge of the world...!

The voice died away into the wind among the high branches, and they heard it no more.

'There's a Sweep worth knowing,' murmured Rogers, strong yearning in him.

'There are no blacks or blues in _my_ brain,' exclaimed Monkey, 'but Jimbo's always got some on his face.'

The impudence passed ignored. Jimbo took his cousin's hand and led him to the opening. The 'men' went in first together; the other sex might follow as best it could. Yet somehow or other Monkey slipped between their legs and got in before them. They stood up side by side in the most wonderful place they had ever dreamed of.

And the first thing they saw was--Jane Anne.

'I'm collecting for Mother. Her needles want such a chronic lot, you see.' Her face seemed full of stars; there was no puzzled expression in the eyes now. She looked beautiful. And the younger children stared in sheer amazement and admiration.

'I have no time to waste,' she said, moving past them with a load in her spread apron that was like molten gold; 'I have to be up and awake at six to make your porridge before you go to school. I'm a busy monster, I can tell you!' She went by them like a flash, and out into the night.

Monkey felt tears in her somewhere, but they did not fall. Something in her turned ashamed--for a moment. Jimbo stared in silence. 'What a girl!' he thought. 'I'd like to be like that!' Already the light was sticking to him.

'So this is where she always comes,' said Monkey, soon recovering from the temporary attack of emotion. 'She's better out than in; she's safest when asleep! No wonder she's so funny in the daytime.'

Then they turned to look about them, breathing low as wild-flowers that watch a rising moon.

The place was so big for one thing--far bigger than they had expected. The storage of lost starlight must be a serious affair indeed if it required all this space to hold it. The entire mountain range was surely hollow. Another thing that struck them was the comparative


A Prisoner in Fairyland - 30/79

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